Gippy, Gopher and Why We Could Lose

I worry that we’re not up to the challenge. Those who wish us ill certainly are.

Meanwhile, here in America we have difficulty putting our pets out of their misery.

I offer exhibit A: The daughter of my friend Fini had two guinea pigs, Yippy and Gippy. One day, Gippy took ill. Fini and his wife took him to the veterinarian. After a $100 examination, the vet said Gippy was suffering from a painful guinea-pig illness.

They could treat him with antibiotics at a cost of $50 per day — though the illness might kill him anyhow and, besides, he was already 3, which is getting old for a guinea pig — or they could have had him put to sleep.

My friend and his wife deliberated long and hard. Finally, and painfully, they decided to send Gippy to guinea pig heaven. For another $100 they had him cremated. His ashes were tastefully collected and stored in an urn.

That brings us to exhibit B: Another friend of mine, Kling, has four children. He and his wife thought a dog would be a pleasant addition to the family. They visited the Humane Society, chose a nice mutt, Gopher, and brought him home.

Gopher quickly proved to suffer from wanderlust. He ran away every chance he could. Kling shelled out $200 and spent a weekend installing an invisible fence. But that didn't work, either. Gopher quickly determined that a jolt of painful electricity was a price he was willing to pay to roam free.

One day, during a blinding snowstorm, the wanderlust overtook him again. He endured a zap as he fled the confines of his yard. Nobody worried, though, because Gopher always came back eventually. But this time he was brought home by the police.

Tragically, Gopher had been hit by a car. He was hit hard, too, and was no longer able to walk. Kling and his wife rushed him to the vet. The vet said Gopher was hurt badly — he had broken bones — but that there was a chance for recovery.

Kling and his wife had to make the decision: should they put Gopher out of his pain at a nominal cost or spend $1,200 to operate. They chose life, a choice that would cost $3,000 before the dust settled. After metal rods were surgically attached — after several weeks of healing — Gopher was nearly as good as new.

I share the stories of Gippy and Gopher because both are telling. They illustrate a simple truth about Americans: We can't stand the thought of death. We can't stand the thought that any creature might endure pain or suffering, and to prevent suffering we frequently let our emotions get the better of us.

But those who wish us ill have no such compunctions. They don't fear death and bloodshed and pain, and, in fact, they desire them. They desire the greater glory that, they believe, their bloody actions will bring them.

Whereas they are focused and determined to accomplish their ends, we are divided and confused and unable to agree what our ends are. Whereas we struggle with the notion of having to put a guinea pig or dog to sleep, they are willing to kill us, themselves and their own babies.

Were I a betting man, I'd have to wager that their strategy could prove to be more effective than ours — but only if we lack the will to face what we need to face to defeat them.

I sure hope things turn out better for America than they did for Kling. After all the soul-searching and emotional torment his family went through to keep Gopher alive — after all the dough they spent — the thankless dog ran away again.

That time, he never came back.

Tom Purcell's weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. His email address is; his web address is

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